United Kingdom Theatre Critic
The hit 1988 motion picture about the Babbitt brothers has been adapted into a stage show by The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company. The story follows Charlie Babbitt JR as he discovers he has an older brother who has inherited his father’s estate and millions of dollars. However, Charlie’s older brother, Raymond, has autism, which makes him a nuisance to his little brother, especially when Charlie takes him on a road trip in a bid to get the inheritance he believes he deserves.
Ed Speleers as Charlie, delivers the arrogant yuppie role perfectly. He makes his performance believable by showing the character is numb from a disorientating childhood. His use of the character’s backstory as a device to make his damaged portrayal viable works well to show depth. Due to the realism given to us in Ed’s characterization of Charlie, it makes some scenes very emotional to watch for the audience. The only slight issue at points was a few slips of his American accent, which was otherwise perfect. The highlight in this portrayal really was the dynamic between Ed and his co-star Mathew, which really helped to bring this brotherly relationship to life.
For anyone wishing to see this play, the one concern that most audience members have is how Raymond is going to be portrayed, as bringing a character with autism to stage in a realist play is no doubt a challenge. However, Mathew Horne delivers one hell of a performance. Everything about his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt is incredible. The ticks and overall movement of the character, is so slight, and natural looking that it really does surprise the audience when Mathew comes out of character for bows. He really does throw himself in, he is almost unrecognizable when first seen on stage. His vocal skills also are impeccable. Mathew’s flawless portrayal of Raymond Babbitt is the main reason you will be enticed to see this strong production, at points you question whether it’s better than Dustin Hoffman’s original portrayal in the 1988 motion picture. And some of the audience believe it is, others think it is on par, but there is no doubt that this is a supremely strong portrayal for someone who is known widely as a comic actor.
Elizabeth Carter as Susan radiates an American woman lost in the 1980s fashion and culture. At points the portrayal is slightly generic, however, by the end of the character’s journey there is a definite identity there, which shows a woman who was chasing love which she believed was untouchable. Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener shows such devotion and care to Raymond, the strengths the character goes to is definitely backed up by Neil’s outstanding portrayal. The desperation truly is understood by the audience when it may not be by the characters that we have been following. Neil’s performance is definitely another highlight of this production. Adam Lilley as Mr Mooney/Dr Marson delivers an enjoyable performance with two clearly separate characters on different journeys.
Joe Sellmen Leava, Hannah Barker and Mairi Barclay work well as ensemble members, transforming into several different characters.
Dan Gordon’s writing is set on stage with elegance and clarity with Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction. O’Boyle clearly has taken inspiration from the original motion picture and lets the actor’s characterization drive the piece. At points the movement can be a bit static and the pace does drop with long pauses. However, overall the play does have the same feel and pace of the original motion picture.
The main issues in this production do fall with the set, Morgan Large, gives a backdrop of light up, large photo frames for the majority of the show, with furniture being carried on and off stage. The relevance and use of the photo frames, is questionable. And at points the movable set does look cheap (especially the Las Vegas backdrop), compared to the high value of performance that is being delivered by the actors. There is also a severe issue with the cast taking too long to get the set onto the stage, leaving long awkward pauses. Another issue is that at points the lighting design, by Jack Weir, doesn’t compliment the set or scene with harsh whites. However, in some scenes, he nails the tonality and lifts the unfolding plot. Dan Samson compliments the production with a realistic sound design, plus using some 80s hits to emphasize the time setting.
Overall, this production largely resembles the film that it is based on. However, the cast add to it, giving different adaptations to the characters we are familiar with. The performances from Ed Speleers and Mathew Horne really compliment these thirty-year-old characters. I rate this production 4/5 stars. See it at The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until Saturday 6th October.